“You don’t deserve anything. Maybe Sloth was an oath breaker, but she was smart enough to know you don’t deserve things, you gotta take them.” (p. 52)
Somewhere in the ravaged Gulf Coast, sometime in the future, Nailer works on the abandoned oil tankers as a ship breaker. He scurries through the dark bowels of these ships, looking for copper wire, bits of aluminum and anything else he can scavenge to turn a profit. His place on the light crew depends on his ability to make quota and Nailer does not want to face the alternative. Crew is blood-crew is protection. To be without is dangerous-even more dangerous than life with his abusive father.
In Nailer’s world, luck is everything. Luck can change your status, change your situation, change your life. After a “city-killer” storm, Nailer and his good friend, Pima, venture to a nearby island looking for food. Instead, they stumble upon a sleek clipper ship that has snagged on the remnants of a drowned city near the island. It’s clear that this ship belongs to the “swanks”; there is room upon room filled with luxurious items that could be Nailer and Pima’s ticket out of their desolate poverty, if they can keep it secret long enough to scavenge what they need. When a barely breathing swank girl threatens their plans, Nailer and Pima are faced with a choice: kill her and take the ship or let her live and hope she’s telling the truth when she says she’s worth more alive than dead. That choice will change the course of their lives forever.
Ship Breaker is a perfectly paced adventure story set in a grim and gritty future that doesn’t seem very far off. Bacigalupi deftly handles themes about family, loyalty, power, class, and the environment in a way that blends seamlessly and never feels forced. I don’t read much science fiction, but I had no problem losing myself in the world of Bright Sands Beach. I liked how Bacigalupi revealed this world slowly; if this were a movie, we would begin with a tight, close-up shot of Nailer at work and as we move further along in the story, the camera pans out to reveal the mass devastation and destruction the world as we know it has endured. One tiny gripe: while I think the character development was strong, I didn’t find them empathetic. I was always interested in the story, but unable to connect emotionally with the characters. Other than that, a solid read. And I hear there’s a sequel…
But here’s the thing. I read this because it won the Printz and some of my co-workers are getting together to discuss the award winners. Would I have read this on my own? Probably not. Will I read the sequel? I guess I’ll have to wait and see.